I’ve gotten to know my own writing process only by watching it unfold. I usually start with a really simple one-sentence description of a concept. For Meme, it was, “Memes in the hands of the people, changing the world dramatically.” For my latest novel it was, “Hipster bicycle gangs in outer space.” Next, I start thinking about who my protagonist is. It’s a piecewise process. First, who is the protagonist, next what does s/he want, what is the central tension? In the case of Cycler Gangs, I wanted a heroine, and I wanted her to be a gangbanger. Then, I decided that I wanted her to be dissatisfied with her life in the gang, but torn because she valued her people and their mission, even if the life was no longer for her.
As I expand on a concept, I think about the tone of the piece. In this case, I was thinking very much of the opening of Snow Crash—I wanted something incredibly ridiculous and over-the-top silly, but taken very seriously by the characters. I wanted a fast-paced patter, the protagonist immersed in her ridiculous fictional world, expounding on it through her actions and experience, so we’re there with her trying to keep up and follow along what the hell is going on, what her life is like.
As I kept going in this vein, I noticed that the world was becoming more serious in a lot of ways, perhaps because I was seeing it through the protagonist’s eyes. There’s something very satisfying about a world founded on a ridiculous, silly premise taking shape into something that is very deadly serious to the characters within it. I don’t think I even knew what the central themes would be until I started further fleshing out the character and the plot.
I ended up with a co-protagonist; a character from a very different social strata in the world—in fact, from the social strata most aligned against the cycler gangs. And she, too, was dissatisfied with her lot. This brings them together, just as the tension of their different roots makes it take time for them to trust and understand each other.
Writers: How do you start a new story? How do you go from concept to characters, plot, etc? I am curious how my own process compares. I realize I’ve only begun to explain mine, but I’ll continue in another post.